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40K: I’ve Got Low Morale About the Morale Phase

6 Minute Read
Oct 26 2017
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Lets talk about the shallowest and and fastest phase in the game.

Almost every wargame struggles with the concept of leadership. While most aspects of games are fairly easy to quantify (this gun is stronger than that gun, when it hits a person they get hurt) the idea of morale and the complex of emotions that go with it are not. Games Workshop have tried a number of different ways to represent morale in various games and editions. Some have obviously worked better than others. With 8th Edition they took a pretty different approach, one that for me at least feels dull. Lets take a look at why.

The Shortest Phase

The rules for the Morale Phase are the shortest out of any phase in the rule book. An entire two paragraphs is devoted to describing how morale works, a simple dice roll per unit. While simplicity is not a bad thing, with such little space devoted to the rules there was always going to be a loss of depth. And this is certainly true, the phase lacks depth.

A Plain Binary

Unlike prior editions morale in 8th is reduced to a simple binary, either the unit is OK and suffers no ill effects, or the unit is not OK and loses models. Yes, units can loss more or less models but there isn’t any other type of effect. Prior editions might see a unit fall back for a turn, or be broken, or pinned; suffering from reduced effectiveness,  or totally destroyed. They weren’t necessarily the best rules, but I enjoyed the variety. More than that however it made the morale phase feel special. Rather than just killing models morale was a way to cause different battlefield effects. To do new and special things. Under 8th morale is just another way to do additional damage. This feels a bit over-streamlined to me.

No Safety In Numbers

In many ways unit size, not actual leadership value, is the biggest factor in passing or failing moral tests. Because moral tests are modified by the number of models small units are far more resistant to moral than larger units. For example a unit with Leadership 8 and 5 models, a Chaos Marine Squad, can at most (barring other modifiers) lose one model to moral over the course of a game. And this can only happen if the squad takes 3 causalities in one turn and the rolls a 6 for moral. Meanwhile a 20 model unit of CSM with the same 8 leadership could loss 9 models in a single turn if they took 11 casualties and rolled a 6.

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To make matters worse four 5-model units of lower leadership would still be  far more resistant to morale losses than the larger higher leadership unit. And this just doesn’t sit right with me. Now I do understand that morale seems to have been designed this way as a check on large units. But it just seems counter-intuitive. What happened to safety in numbers? Shouldn’t a large group of solders working together be less likely to run away, not more? Moreover, with the lack of real restrictions on unit choices there is often not a lot of downside to splitting your large units up into smaller units. Overall I’m not sure it’s a big check on morale at all.

Rerolls Are Bad

A number of players have pointed out that rules for morale means that rerolls can be a negative. Now a number of units, all Marines for example, get to re-roll failed moral tests. This seems good, but is in fact often not. You see because how much you fail a test by matters, and you must use the reroll, a reroll can in fact make the result worse. If fail a morale test on a 4, then %50 of the time a reroll will have no effect or make things worse. Again this is not game braking but just feels… unsatisfactory.

Too Easy To Ignore

One of the problems that has plagued morale in 40K for editions is that it tends to be too easy to ignore.  For something that is supposed to be a core part of the game far too many armies have ways of effectively ignoring morale. While all editions have struggled with this I think 8th is in many ways gives little power to the entire morale concept. Not only do armies, such as Orks and Nids have ways of effectively negating morale, but units with new aura abilities, like Abaddon can make large parts of whole armies immune to morale. On top of that 8th added in a base stratagem that lets a unit pass morale tests, and several mission types, such as those found in the Open War Cards let everyone ignore morale.

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With so many things ignoring morale it tends to shove the mechanic to the background, making it a random thing that sometimes punishes a player. Whats really sad is that there are some armies, like Night Lords, that have the ability to build whole lists around manipulating morale. The fact that they may run up against an army that just ignores the mechanic means that they just can’t cut it competitively, which is too bad -because Night Lords should be scary. Just look at this guy!

That nose is terrifying!

Non-plussed

Overall, I don’t hate the morale rules. There simply isn’t enough there to hate. What I am is disappointed by them. Their lack of luster and minor role in the game leaves be wishing they could be more. Or perhaps they shouldn’t be in the game at all. As I said lots of games struggle with getting morale right. I’ve seen a ton of systems use different ways to represent moral and I’m not sure I really like any of them perfectly. Some systems simple do away with moral altogether. And to a degree I could see this working for 40K. I mean, should Space Marines, who know no fear, or creatures of the hive-mind who devour world really bother with moral? 40K is ridiculous and abstract enough that maybe the moral phase is just an unnecessary holdover from the past. Maybe the real solution is to toss it out altogether when 9th Edition comes along?

At the End of the day if GW wants to keep the morale phase I hope they can come up with a morally satisfying way of representing the fear and terror beings would experience on the battlefields of the 41st Millennium. 

That’s all for this time BOLS fans! Let us know you love the moral phase or disappointed by it, down in the comments! 

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